Kerry frenzy distracts us from the real Iraq war news

November 05, 2006|By DAN RODRICKS

Republicans had a good time with John Kerry's botched joke on military service and the Iraq war, and they'll try to keep this blip of a story alive through Tuesday's election, even though the stack of Iraq stories before and after Kerry's gaffe should be of far greater concern to those of us who still think -- and those of us who still believe our votes make a difference.

Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, blew a zinger aimed at President Bush, and his "joke" ended up sounding like a sneer at the men and women in our all-volunteer military. But the degree to which Kerry's klutzy 15 seconds received attention says more about the electronic media's news judgment, the GOP's desperation and its influence on talking-head radio and television than anything else.

Bush and the White House needed to make a mountain out of a molehill -- and to muster the Swift Boat Kerry bashers -- because they have been swamped by bad news and reports of incompetence related to Iraq.

No wonder they went into a Kerry feeding-frenzy.

In September, an intelligence report said the war in Iraq had heightened, not lessened, the terrorism threat by fueling recruitment of Islamic radicals.

October turned out to be the fourth-deadliest month for U.S. forces since the war began, with 105 deaths reported by the Associated Press. As of Friday, the AP had placed the number of the U.S. military killed since the war began at 2,829.

As for civilian deaths, a study by Johns Hopkins researchers estimated the number of Iraqis killed since the war began at more than 600,000. Bush said the Hopkins report was "not credible" and "flawed," which, oddly enough, are some of the kinder words used to describe Bush and his handling of the war. There are other reasons why Bush needed the distraction Kerry created.

On Monday, The New York Times reported that the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) found discrepancies in records on more than 500,000 weapons given to the Iraqis during the last few years, including grenade launchers, assault rifles, machine guns, shotguns, semiautomatic pistols and sniper rifles. The U.S. military failed to note the serial numbers of all but a few thousand of them; they don't know where the weapons are or whether they have fallen into the wrong hands.

Further, the Times reported, Iraqi security forces still depend heavily on the United States for food, fuel, ammunition, troop transportation, health care and maintenance, and there doesn't seem to be any inclination on the part of the Iraqi government to pay us back for all this support. Wait, there's more!

"The American military," the Times reported, "was not able to say how many Iraqi logistics personnel it has trained [because] a computer network crash erased records. These problems have occurred even though the United States has spent $133 million on the weapons program and $666 million on building up Iraqi logistics capabilities."

And more: The inspector general, a Republican attorney named Stuart Bowen, has uncovered millions of dollars in cost overruns of Iraq reconstruction contracts, and his staff accused a State Department agency of cooking some books to hide the rising costs of projects and withholding information from Congress.

And more: The Iraq government doesn't seem inclined to do anything about seeking compromises toward ending sectarian tensions and violence, so more and more military leaders on the ground are moving to the belief that deadlines need to be imposed and a timetable established on the reduction of U.S. forces.

Even Bush doesn't say "stay the course" anymore (though he claimed to have never used the term). The Army Times, Marine Corps Times, Navy Times and Air Force Times -- independent publications that serve the four main branches of the U.S. military -- have called for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld -- in direct opposition to the pledge of the commander in chief to keep his defense secretary in place through 2008.

And now the neocons are speaking out again.

Some of the chicken hawks who got us into this mess -- Richard Perle, Kenneth Adelman and other Bush advisers who believed Saddam Hussein had to be toppled to bring stability to the Middle East -- now say they would not have supported a war if they knew the Bush administration would botch it.

"I think now I probably would have said, `No, let's consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists,'" Perle tells Vanity Fair in an upcoming issue.

In excerpts of the story on Vanity Fair's Web site, Adelman says Bush, Rumsfeld and others in the administration "turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the postwar era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional."

Eliot Cohen, another neocon adviser to the Bush administration, says: "I wouldn't be surprised if what we end up drifting toward is some sort of withdrawal on some sort of timetable and leaving the place in a pretty ghastly mess."

John Kerry botched a joke. George Bush botched a war. You tell me what we should be more concerned about on Election Day 2006.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

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